I think I was about 17 when I read Little Men for the first time. It did not make that huge impression on me as Good Wives did but I still enjoyed it as I have enjoyed all Alcott´s books. It was about 10 years ago since I had read the book last time I didn´t really remembered all the things that had happened in it. This was the first time I read the book in English and either in the past the Finnish version I read was shortened a lot or maybe I have simply grown up more as a person and more easily pick nuisances from the story since I discovered so many new things from this read.
My old Finnish copy of Little Men sadly seems to be lost for the ages so in the spring I ordered an English version to myself.
Jo and Fritz are living their juggling/traffic years since their kids are small and the school is finally doing well. I love Jo in Little Men because she is such a multi-tasker. She runs the house, takes care about 20 kids and continues writing and Fritz supports his wive´s writing career and takes care of teaching. School is ran with feminist values and each child is treated as an individual. Mixture of boys and girls makes the gender roles more blurry and children's aspirations are supported.
But what if aunt March would not have left Plumfield for Jo?
I don´t think that a life where Fritz would go to work each day to teach somewhere else and Jo would stay at home writing and hanging out with Franz and Emil would have been suitable for either one of them on a long run. Jo maybe more introverted but she needed life around her and she and Fritz also shared love for academics. Jo´s nature also needed challenges and those became inspirations to her stories. Definitely Plumfield would have become reality one way or another.
Jo and Fritz would have stayed in Concord close to Jo´s family and saved money for that. Fritz would have worked as a teacher in a local school and Jo would have continued writing and if necessary she would have taken another job as well (Louisa May Alcott did work as a teacher and as a nurse at one point).
When I read Little Men for the first time my favourite character was actually Nat. It was probably because Little Men is told from perspective of three people; Jo, Fritz and Nat but now that I read the book again I still cared about him but he wasn´t my focus and I came to the realisation that the reason why I used to love Nat back in the days was the same reason why I used to like young Laurie much more when I was 12 when I read Little Women for the first time. It was some kind of mixture of pity and maternal feelings because they were both orphans who liked to play music and had had a hard life.
When I re-read Little Women some years later my take on Laurie was completely different because young Laurie can be great but he can also be very irritating. Nat was never as intrusive as Laurie was but Nat was bit like Pinocchio in Collodi´s fairy-tale. When there came times when he had to choose the right from wrong Nat would often choose the wrong even when he knew that it was wrong. Luckily the more time he spends in Plumfield he starts to see how self-harming that kind of behaviour can be.
Little Rob became my new favourite character. He is freaking adorable and I love that he is a chatterbox. Mini-Friedrich who inherited his fathers optimistic life attitude and Jo´s curious nature. Little Men also introduced the character of Dan and I found his relationship with Jo really interesting because they are very similar. Both are observers. Another reference to tender masculinity is Little Ted´s affection to Dan. Dan is more quiet, more of a grumpy teen-ager and at least in the beginning he tries very hard to hide his vulnerability and it is with his interactions with Ted when his kind nature comes out and that is the quality in him that Jo and Fritz wish to support. Dan and Nat also become very good friends and Nat is extremely sensitive. I think he might even be hsp (which is probably why I still relate myself to him) for Nat it is difficult to censor or hide his emotions. Another famous highly sensitive person in Little Women universe is of course Beth.
Daisy has not changed a bit from the way she was in Good Wives. She is very similar to her mother and Daisy is a very active character. She makes things happen. Amy´s and Laurie´s daughter Bess is as pretty as her parents but she is so young she doesn´t really have a developed personality yet but she is as graceful as her mother
During the years between Good Wives and Little Men Amy suffered multiple miscarriages, which must have had it´s effect on Laurie as well. Yet because these are children´s books there is no deeper explorations to the characters emotional world of what it is like to loose a child but if the "children book" was not the structure of the book and Louisa would have had more liberties I believe many would have different views on Amy and Laurie. Imagine how it would be like to be part of as tight-knit family as Bhaers-Brooks-Marches-Lawrences are and to see your sisters and your friends becoming mothers and fathers. If I remember right Meg and John were married about 2 years before Meg got pregnant and Jo and Fritz after the first year.
As much as I love Little Men my biggest criticism is that there isn´t enough Amy in it. I recently found out that Louisa´s sister May Alcott who was the main inspiration for Amy´s character asked Louisa not to write that much about Amy because she was constantly bombarded by both Amy lovers and Amy haters and that distracted her own artistic work. Little Men is a great book but it is unbalanced because there isn´t so much Amy yet May´s request for Louisa not to write so much about Amy was completely valid.
Good Wives is one of my favourite books of all time and Laurie is a complete mess in it and Amy is the only person who gets through him (and the only one who he listens). In this house we stand for Amy March. Especially during his party boy phase Laurie was in many ways very selfish character and largely thanks to the positive influence from Amy he starts to take responsibility from himself for the very first time. There were years that were very hard on both Laurie and Amy because of their struggles of having a child so in Little Men when Laurie does help with some of the students (mainly with Nat´s music) he has gotten into the same level as John Brooke and Friedrich, Who in the terms of Little Women were the only two male characters that were always able to look after themselves and other people. Because of the losses that he and Amy have gone through he does not take children for granted and the philanthropist work that he and Amy do gives him the feeling of purpose which is something that Laurie was lacking for the most part in his youth. I love both Amy´s and Laurie´s interactions with their daughter.
Then there is the parallels between Beth and Bess. Beth was described as an angel child and after multiple miscarriages when Amy finally gives birth to a baby girl it´s a blessing and they named her after her angelic aunt. It also parallels with Laurie´s journey the way it took forever for him to come in terms with himself and finally getting a family of his own. There is a scene in Jo´s boys where Emil gives Amy a necklace with Madonna and a child and tells how it reminded him of the time of Bess birth which highlights all of that.
If you are a fellow Amy/Laurie fan check the 1970 BBC adaptation it´s the most accurate screen adaptation of their relationship.
There was a small scene that I think speaks a great deal. After the death of John Brooke Fritz talks to Demi and the boys about John and tells how both he and Laurie looked up to him when they became parents. This an interaction that I would have loved to read more about and when I think of my uncomforts with Laurie´s character is that the Hollywood portrayal of him is 100 % inaccurate. After my least read of Jo´s boys I realised how perfectly Laurie and Amy are mirroring Nat and Daisy. Both Meg and Jo are worried that Nat because he is so very effeminate and sensitive can´t provide for Daisy but then Jo also thinks that Nat would need a strong woman like Daisy to bring him back to reality. This is exactly what happened with Jo and Laurie. Because Laurie was sensitive, very unaware of his own privileged position and constantly drifting without a direction first Jo wished that Meg would marry him, then she wished that Beth would marry him and then she thought that Laurie and Amy would make a great couple and they did since Amy was the only one who Laurie actually listened.
Laurie and Amy 2019 I am nervous and exited to see them
My Little Women marathon is still continuing and I must say I have become more critical towards Hollywood´s adaptive attractiveness. Laurie in the books is very delicate and effeminate and Jo has more "masculine" features and she has very masculine trajectory. Of course she loves Laurie as a brother but she is not attracted to him because he has such "effiminate" looks but then she is really fixated on Fritz since he has such clear "masculine" looks. I always found it cute and quite funny how obviously thirsty she is for him in New York and he is completely unaware of it. Films in many ways ignore this by hiring more masculine/handsome Lauries, feminine Jo´s and tones down Jo´s "masculinity" but it´s Hollywood and the gender fluidly has become more understood subject just more recently. This is also why it is very difficult to turn Little Women into screen like the way it is in the books.
Gender fluidly continues in the character of Nan who is a tomboy and someone who Jo sees herself in. Nan is delightful and her desire to become a nurse is supported by everyone. There are so many characters in this book I am probably forgetting some of them. I absolutely love the relationship between Jo and Franz. Franz´s brother Emil is more hot-heated but Franz is more mild-tempered like his uncle and he wants to become a teacher and I am pretty convinced that Franz was Jo´s favorite because he was so much like Fritz. Because Fritz was the one who raised his nephews he is much more than just an uncle but somewhere between an uncle and a father. When Jo and Fritz marry Jo became the boys aunt but for Franz she is more of a mother and I can´t really think of a better step-mom for Emil than Jo since Jo also knew how to be strict if needed. You don´t really see it that that much in Little Men but definitely in Jo´s boys where the Bhaers-Marches-Lawrences-Brookes all become together as a community to raise children.
The lesson that I took from this book is that Little Women is about childhood and the beginning in the terms of shaping ones identity, Good Wives is about entering to the world of adulthood and finding meaningful work and true love (and learning to love oneself as well), Little Men is largely about parenthood and like all Little Women books it constantly breaks the 19th century gender stereotypes.
I think that having children and becoming a mother did frighten Jo since she was so used to her autonomy and I think (no one can ever change my mind about this) Louisa was a genius when she gave Jo a partner who was as found of kids as Jo was but who also had experience raising them. Fritz is a very attentive parent. In Little Men he is always holding little Ted or he is playing with Rob. Jo does manage to combine love, family and career but person like Jo can only do that when she is with a partner like Fritz who tells her to slow down if she is going too fast and who believes in her and gives her confidence to be herself.
In Good Wives there is a scene where Fritz is wondering what it would be like to be in a relationship with Jo and start a family with her. Sadly it is Friedrich´s love for children what is used against him when people criticise his character and it is ignored how much Jo actually loves children in the books, boys especially. Men can dream about having a family as much as women. We should not take the scene out of it´s context. It happens when Fritz is feeling rather lonely and is missing his home country and even though he has friends in New York he is an outsider and what are the odds? he meets Jo (who has always felt herself as an outsider) and falls in love with her and she is very found of him and in the book Jo is also much more interested of the doings of Franz and Emil than her two female charges Kittie and Minny which once again shows Jo´s love and affection towards male over female and there is a scene in Little Men where Jo wants to cheer up Daisy and she is thinking to herself how in the house that is filled with boys the only girl is sometimes the most difficult to please which shows how hard it sometimes still is for Jo to understand the world of the feminine. But Jo loves Daisy and the adult Jo who has grown out from the teen age-Jo who scoffed and made fun of the more feminine girls let´s Daisy to be herself and supports her in terms of finding her own identity.
I love everything about the way Louisa describes Jo´s and Fritz´s marriage in Little Men but then again I am one of those who in general love the way Louisa writes about love and romance was it then Fritz thinking what an amazing woman Jo is and how lucky he is and Jo always feeling her neurotic all over the place nature calming down when he is there or Amy and Laurie rowing the same both together enjoying each others company or Meg and John happily getting married in the most tupsy-turvey wedding.
I might be the only person in the world who has come into this conclusion but ever since I read Little Men for the first time I´v believed that John Brooke was Friedrich´s best friend in Concord. Both Fritz and Jo are really upset when John dies since they both liked him a lot and there is a scene where Jo is comforting Fritz and it is said that they were good friends. In many ways it makes perfect sense. John was very kind and sweet man but also a bit shy and many times more introverted people enjoy the company of more extroverted people like Fritz (Jo and Fritz are also a good example of this but I see Jo more as an ambivert than an introvert) John also spoke German and in many ways he and Fritz had similar values; strong work ethics, both had worked as teachers, they were close to each others age. It is Victorian bromance and I am totally shipping it.
But my favorite part in this book is the fact that Jo and Fritz have a dog called Christopher Columbus.
Check out my other Little Women articles:
Little Women: Symbolism of the umbrella
Little Women: Equal Marriage Lost in Translation
Quest of Friedrich Bhaer, Tender Masculinity in Little Women
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
Little Women 1933
Thoughts on #TeamLaurie and #TeamBhaer
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
(and names of my favorite professor)
All my new readers welcome and those of you who´v been with me since the beginning of my Jo/Fritz essay journeys welcome back. As a writer and as an illustrator I spend lots of time studying symbols and one of the most striking and powerful symbols in Little Women in the course of Jo and Friedrich, is the umbrella.
The umbrella, is more than just an everyday object here. It symbolises how Jo and Fritz have grown to realise that they love each others. What I love about the writings of Louisa May Alcott was the way she captured love and romance in most nuisance ways within every day life experiences. There are no grand romantic gestures or orchestras playing during the proposals in a rose petal rain but yet these sweet moments that happen in the domestic sphere between two people are very romantic. Friedrich proposes Jo in the rain under the umbrella. His proposal is sincere and earnest.
“Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you; I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?”
He gives Jo all the power and the control. He does´t ask her to marry him, he asks if she could love him.
The joy they feel when they realise they both have feelings for each others is like nothing else and it is in complete contradiction to the environment. They are standing in the middle of puddles in pouring rain. He is poor, all his clothes are patched and the trim of Jo´s dress is completely soaked but they don´t pay attention to any of theses things because in that moment they are extremely happy.
There is always controversy around Little Women and the anti-Fritz people say that Louisa was trying to piss off her readers but I dare to disagree. Like any good writer I believe Louisa did care about her characters and she gave all March girls matches that she herself was happy with. Since being a young adult Louisa alone was the only breadwinner of her family for years. The feelings of obligation and duty never fully left her. After reading Louisa May Alcott´s biography I was left with a feeling that there were times when she wished that someone would be there to take care of her since she had spent all of her life taking care of others. Every symbol related to Jo´s professor has aspects of protection.
He keeps the poem close to his heart...
this is me
I was just kidding...this is me really.. I am a puddle of goo with heart full of rainbows
The way the proposal scene is framed it shows how little Jo and Fritz care about their surroundings when they finally get together. Jo kisses him even though it is considered inappropriate, Fritz wants to kneel down but he can´t because of the rain and people passing by probably think they are crazy. The umbrella is Jo and Fritz, and the rain is the rest of the world which does not exist in that moment.
German name "Friedrich" means a peaceful ruler. This refers to his calm nature and that he is more mature. Jo herself is the opposite, she is fiery, outspoken and has a temper. They are complete polars and yet these are qualities that they greatly admire in each others.
Last name Bhaer which has been written wrong for the past 140 years (correct form is Baer, which is a German last name that literally refers to a bear) also symbolizes protection. Bears are connected to courage, fellowship, support and comfort.
I will leave you with this piece of information I found from Ancestry.com
"Baer Family History"
"German (Bär): from Middle High German ber ‘bear’, a nickname for someone thought to resemble the animal in some way, a metonymic occupational name for someone who kept a performing bear, or a habitational name for someone who lived at a house distinguished by the sign of a bear. In some cases, it may derive from a personal name containing this element. Jewish (Ashkenazic): Jewish (Ashkenazic): from the Yiddish male personal name Ber, from Yiddish ber ‘bear’. Dutch: from Middle Dutch baer ‘naked’, ‘bare’. Debrabandere suggests it may have been a nickname for someone who wore ragged clothes"
Must say I especially love the part with ragged clothes, fits very well with Fritz´s character.
Maybe it is the combination of the rain and the love I have for these two characters and their honest dialogue why this still is the most romantic exchange I have ever read. Jo always felt herself as an outside in the Concord society. When she met Friedrich she met another outsider and Friedrich is someone who is very comfortable in his own skin. He tells Jo that it is okay to be unconventional and nourish her creativity. Quoting Louisa May Alcott, she wanted to love freely and deeply and I feel sad she never found her own Fritz. Unlike Laurie who demanded Jo to marry him, Fritz gave Jo a choice.
The umbrella is about that, loving freely and deeply.
What do you guys think about the symbolism of the umbrella? is anyone else as in love with the proposal in the rain scene as I am?
Check out my other Little Women articles:
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
Quest of Friedrich Bhaer, Tender Masculinity In Little Women
Little Women, Equal Marriage lost in translation
Thoughts on TeamLaurie and TeamBhaer
Little Women 1933
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
Little Men and Tender Parenthood
Little Women 1994, 1949, Masterpiece 2017
As a fan of Little Women (all four books) I wanted to adress something that really bothers me in the whole Fritz/Laurie debate. If you´ve read my previous LW posts you´ll know that for me the only happy ends for Jo are either with Friedrich or the single Jo. Those are my ships and I don´t care who other people ship. Even though Friedrich is my favorite character that doesn´t mean that I hate Laurie. Quite the contrary I think Laurie´s character arch is one of the most interesting ones in the books (many film adaptations sadly ignore it). I don´t like the debate because it is not only about people fighting over who they think Jo should end up with. It´s about people consciusly choosing to hate certain characters because these characters or even their favorite characters don´t behave like they want in the books
There some very vile individuals who share false information online about Louisa May Alcott and all the sequals. There are people who make fun of Jo because she doesn´t want to marry Laurie and there are people in #teamlaurie who make fun of Friedrich because he is older and poor and they ignore all those wonderful qualities that make Jo fall in love with him or they hate Amy for marrying Laurie. Not to mention certain feminists who make fun of Meg because she is a domesticated godddess. My inner feminist thinks that is pretty harsh since that was the traditional role of the women in 19th century and yes, both Jo and Amy are better rolemodels for modern day girls. That does not mean that it is okay for women to make fun of other women. Whole premise of feminism is about woman´s right to make their own choises and Meg is quite content with her life. Some people also make fun of Jo because she is not as aggressive as an adult as she was as a teen...I call that growing up (do these people remember their own teen-age years?) Even if Jo is not as aggressive as an adult, she remains as her sassy unapologetic self throughout the book series (I just read the part from Little Men where she justifies Nat the importance of pillow fights). It is not only vile people in #TeamLaurie. There are also people in #TeamBhaer who only point out all the faults that Laurie has.
THIS IS ALL SO STUPID!
I couldn´t hate any characters in Little Women or Louisa May Alcott for writing one of my favorite books. Many people tend to forget that Little Women is a coming of age book not a love story. It was targeted for young girls in the late 19th century offering advices on good marriage and moralities. The debate itself completely minimizes author´s messages:
There are different types of marriages and roles of men an women can be more fluid.
Women can remain independent while being in a loving relationship when they are with a right partner.
Women can have a fullfilling career and a family.
We should not make fun of spinsters or those who choose to be alone or ladies who take more traditional roles.
Most importantly money and looks should not matter in the affairs of the heart. Marmee gives this advice to her daughters. She would rather see them happily married with poor men than unhappily with a rich ones.
Debate completely ignores the fact that both Jo and Amy are stepping stones in the process of Laurie turning from a boy into a man and that both Laurie and Friedrich represent Jo´s growth as and individual. It completely ignores Amy´s character arch growing from a vain child into a mature caring woman and the change of dynamics in Amy´s and Jo´s relationship. After Beth´s death sisters actually become closer (which I always thought was very realistic and beautiful). Book centers around Jo and her sisters maturing but it is also a story about Laurie and Friedrich.
Laurie who lost his parents on a young age and has been living in different boarding schools in Europe moves to Concord to live with his distant grandfather. He is an outsider and that is one of the reasons he has no problems becoming best friends with four girls. Because his grandfather can be very distant Laurie does became fixated with the March family. There are times when he is just wonderful and supportive like during the time of Beth´s illness but he can be very immature at times. Jo never has any romantic feelings towards Laurie in the books and she is totally frightened and angry when Laurie develops a crush on her. They are both alphas with high tempers who work great as friends but anything else than that they bring out the worst in each others. Laurie becomes rather obsessed with Jo and his behavior is very intrusive. It is also rather unhealthy and it is his way of avoiding growing up and taking responsibilites. He might be closer to her age but Jo was always the mature one. She has rejected all his romantic efforts but he jus continues. When Laurie proposes it is all about him. He doesn´t consider Jo´s feelings at all.
Jo had a tendency to mother Laurie. Whenever Laurie had difficulties with his grandfather Jo was usually the mediator between them. She was always reminding him not to speak slang and to behave well especially when Laurie was in college. Even when she knows that she can never love him the way he would like to, she is afraid of the confrontation and hurting his feeling and Laurie needs to hear that in order to move on with his life. Amy is not afraid of confrontations. She meets Lazy-Laurie drifting in Europe being all whiny and pitiful but she wont have him either if he doesn´t get his act together and he does. The emotional roller-coaster with both Jo and Amy is what makes him to grow and become a man. I especially like Laurie in the following sequels where he is a loving husband and a father. Good Wives/Little Women II is one of my favorite books, mostly because of the romantic fluffiness but I like it when two people grow to love each others and they don´t even notice it at first.
I love this part where Laurie goes to see Amy after Beth´s death
"She did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause in the archaway...He stood a minute, looked ath her with new eyes, seeing what no-one had ever seen before - the thender side of Amy´s character. Everything about her mutely suggested love and sorrow - the blotted letters in her lap (his letters), the black ribbon that tied up her hair, and she wore it as her only ornament.
"O Laurie, Laurie, I knew you´d come to me"
It is a shame that so many film versions ignore Amy´s and Laurie´s story. It is beautifully written in the books. I hope that the up-coming film do them justice.
Elizabeth Taylor is my favorite Amy
From the four sisters Amy and Jo were the most similar both having a temper and Jo did envy Amy since it was so effortless for her to get everything she wanted. Burning Jo´s book wasn´t right and Amy did regret it all of her life. She also did look up to Jo and admired her determination, even though Amy´s ambitions were in other things. At the age of 16 Amy already had a better control over her temper than Jo and because of that she was the one who got to go to Europe. I personally love the adult Amy in the books. Jo is definitely a feminist hero but we should give more credit for Amy as well. Amy never copes well with being poor (very much like her creator Louisa May Alcott) and unlike Jo, she cares a great deal about her appearance. This is why from a very young age she knows that she will marry a rich man but Amy grows to realize that marrying for love is much better. I love the part where she scolds Laurie. It does not come from a bad place. She cares about him deeply and even more when he turns out to be worthy of her trust.
I found it very interesting in the books when Amy comes to the conclusion that she is never going to be a professional artist. I felt really bad for her and she was way too hard on herself comparing herself to the great masters. She did continue with her art as a hobby and always enjoyed it. It is hard for me to say if that was a good or a bad thing. She could have reached higher and become very successful but maybe letting go of that dream made it easier for her to create without pressure. As a full-time artist myself Amy´s struggles finding the balance feels very relatable.
I don´t know anyone who has read Little Women and hasn´t identified themselves with Jo at some level. Jo is filled with contradictions. Shy and impulsive. She doesn´t want to be with Laurie, she wants to be Laurie and have all those liberties that were granted for men but not for women of the time. Jo March does things her own way. Jo always had a bit of a Peter Pan complex. She did not want to grow up and things to change yet at the same time she was always very mature herself. She started to take responsibilities of an adult very early on by selling her writings. Jo never writes because of fame or fortune. She writes to suppor her family. Adult Jo worked as a governess in New York. Occupation that was often frowned upon during the time. Once Jo heard two young men making fun of her being a governess:
”I felt angry at first, and then I didn´t care, for a governess is as good as a clerk, and I´ve got sense, I I haven´t style, which is more than some people have, judging from the remarks of the elegant beings who clattered away, smoking like bad chimneys. I hate ordinary people”.
Tomboy Jo is also very good at taking care of others. This can be seen especially with her interractions with Beth. I´ve never liked the idea of Jo and Laurie together. Girls don´t´usually fall for guys who they mother and I don´t think it should be Jo´s job to ”fix” Laurie. Friedrich challenges Jo in a whole different level because his personality is total opposite to her. She is impulsive and introverted and he is more calm and extroverted and they compliment each others. When she and Fritz turn Plumfield into a school for boys Jo can nurture them as much as she likes but I think one of the key ingredients to Jo´s and Friedrich´s loving relationship is that Friedrich doesn´t need Jo to mother him.
Friedrich is already a mature man when we meet him for the first time but he as well grows as a person. When he spends time with Jo in New York he doesn´t really want to accept the fact that he is indeed in love with her because falling in love brings out insecurities about their differences. It is a classical case of the opposite attract- troupe in the beginning but they soon find out that they do have many things in common. Eventually Friedrich decides to travel to Concord to see if Jo has feelings for her. Which was a brave thing to do. There is an interesting aspect in Friedrich. I think he felt bit resentment towards his sister. Friedrich had to move to America when his sister Minna became ill and he promised on her death-bed to her to look after his nephews and by doing this he had to change careers from a well-respected philosophy teacher from Berlin to a language tutor in a foreign land. Life happens and Fritz never complains and he loves his nephews. He often misses his homeland but Fritz is one of those people who don´t dwell in the past. When we meet Friedrich in New York he has gotten there through complicated circumstances trying to make most of it but it wasn´t the life he had hoped for himself. In the chapter ”under the umbrella” in Good Wives/LW II both him and Jo reclaim the control of their lives when they agree to build their future together and make it what they want it to be.
My apologies. I´m a total Jo what it comes to Friedrich. I can´t shut up.
There we have it. What it comes to Jo I´m on #TeamBhaer all the way and what it comes to Laurie I´m most definitely #TeamLaurieWithAmy. Both couples bring out the best of each others and I also freaking love John and Meg who are shamelessly neglected by the (at times extremely shallow) Little Women fandom.
Check out my other Little Women articles:
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
Little Women: Equal Marriage Lost In Translation
Friedrich Bhaer (Why my inner Jo loves him) Tender Masculinity in Little Women
Little Women 1933
Little Men and Tender Parenthood
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
Little Women: Symbolism of the Umbrella
All of you Alcott fans who happen to be native English speakers do not take it for granted that you can read the author´s words the way she intented them to be read. I recently had an interesting discussion with a fellow Finnish book blogger about Little Women and the special place it has in our hearts (he is one of the two men who I personally know that have read Little Women) but also the frustration that badly translated sentence can cause for the reader not to mention the abridged versions or the ones where the translator has taken artistic liberties. In worst cases bad translation can completely turn the meaning of the scene upside down. This is something that happened to me when I first time read the Little Women II.
I am a Finn and in Finland we take national pride how equality has such an important value in our culture and in the society. This is one of the many reasons why I have always been very found of Jo´s dear professor. Friedrich Bhaer is just as tupsy-turvy as Jo but most importantly Jo and Fritz share similar ideas of equality and it´s importance in a relationship. We can not expect nothing overly graphic from Alcott. When Jo and Friedrich spent more time together in New York, she becomes fixated on him both physically and intellectually in away she never did with Laurie or anyone else. Friedrich also becomes more found of Jo each passing day. They are both very stubborn in totally different ways and it is difficult for them to express how they truly feel. Most of the time that Jo spends in New York is told from Jo´s point of view and the focus of narration is on Jo´s developing romantic feelings towards ”her professor”. When Friedrich arrives to Concord tables are turned and now it is Friedrich who is, rather openly, fixated on her.
I was 17 when I read Little Women II (also known as Good Wives) for the first time and there was something in the proposal under the umbrella that always bothered me and now after a decade later I found out that it was a translation error. In this beautiful scene Friedrich tells Jo that he is traveling to the west to provide education for his nephews Franz and Emil and Jo is heartbroken because he is leaving and they finally reveal their true feelings for one another. They both agree to work hard to build their life and future together. As a symbol of this Jo takes some of the parcels he is carrying. In the Finnish translation that I´ve read Friedrich gives Jo the title of ”professorin rouva” which literally means ”professor´s wife”. I found this very strange. There is all this talk about them being equal to one another and then this. I´ve come to known Friedrich as a man who mends his own socks, has re-build his life in a foreign country and as someone who has managed to raise two young boys by himself. He is not possessive over women, especially not over Jo who he has utmost respect (and heart full of love). Basically Friedrich is like Jo, someone who doesn´t think that marriage should be a goal of one´s life but an union between two people based on love and trust. Neither they represent the traditional role of men and women of the time and their marriage is going to be unique because of that.
I recently read Little Women I and II for the first time in English and in the English version Friedrich gives Jo a German title of Professorin. I happen to speak German and I know that Professorin doesn´t mean professor´s wife. It is not even close to it. It means a female professor. By giving this title Friedrich makes Jo equal to him and Jo is delighted because as a woman (and coming from a poor family) she has not been allowed to continue to higher education. Little Women II takes place in 1870-1880´s and during that time women were allowed to participate on university lectures and exams but they were not allowed to matriculate or graduate until 1920´s. Friedrich´s attraction to Jo is as well both physical and intelligent. He knows she is very well-read, has a sharp mind, her interests hardly fit within the domestic phere and she can achieve many great things if she wants to and he is more than willing to support that. I nearly missed all of that because of a translation error which completely changed the meaning of his words.
Apparentally the Finnish translation I used to read was done way back in 1921 and it definitely looks like I should get myself an updated version. Even if you are married to your soulmate relationships always require compromises. Little Women II does excellent job showing different types of marriages between equals. Jo wants Friedrich who doesn´t want to change her, has good work-morals and challenges her intellectually. Laurie wants someone who he can admire and who admires him and someone who fits into his world and Amy is perfect for that. Meg and John are the most traditional couple. He is the provider and she takes care of the home and children and that is their agreement.
Check out my previous Little Women article as well:
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
Quest of Friedrich Bhaer (and why my inner Jo loves him)
Thoughts on TeamLaurie and TeamBhaer
Little Women: Symbolism of the Umbrella
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
Little Women 1933
You can also find me on instagram @fairychamberart
As always I would love to hear your thoughts. Have you read abridged or strangely translated version of Little Women or it´s sequels or any other books? What do you think about the equality aspect of Jo´s and Fritz relationship? (I´d say #relationshipgoals)
You are about to be spoiled with an in-depth analyzis on one of my all-time literal crushes Friedrich Bhaer. All Laurie-fans Auf Wiedersehen. You are allowed to stay if you behave well and respect other people´s opinions. As for those of you who are in #teambhaer willkommen und ich bin sehr froh das du hast mein blog gefunden. (Welcome and I am very glad that you have found your way to my blog).
If you are a fan of Louisa May Alcott´s works and you have ever spent some time in Little Women forums or literal blogs you are more than aware that what it comes pairing our heroine Jo March fans are pretty strickly devided into two groups those being #teambhaer and #teamlaurie and this debate has been going on for 150 years. I must confess I have been on the alcott online circles longer than I care to admit and those are not the only ships that have risen from the Little Women. There is a great deal of people who ship Amy and Laurie. There is a handful (maybe some thousands) of people who like the idea of Beth and Laurie being together (I don´t ship it but I find it intriguing) plus there are people who ship couples from the movie/tv adaptations and not from the books and vice versa and some do both. Last but not least there is a portion of Little Women fans who wish that Jo would have remained single like the author originally intented (I have two of my toes in the #singlejoteam). I recently had a massive Little Women marathon. I read two novels, one biography and watched 8 hours of film (still need to find my old copy of Little Men somewhere).
June Allyson and Rossano Brazzi as Jo and Friedrich in the 1949 film
I have an undying love for all things Jo and Friedrich and they´ve always been one of my favorite literal couples (this is hardcore bhaershipping folks). He is kind, loves books, speaks with a sexy accent and above all, loves Jo more than anything else in the world.
Winona Ryder and Gabriel Byrne as Jo and Friedrich in the 1994 film
My first introduction to little women was the beloved movie version from 1994 and I am not going to lie to you I was swooning over Gabriel Byrne (what can I say I love the academic types). I loved the film and it inspired me to read the book. I think I was about 12. I remember liking the book, especially the portrayal of sisterhood. (I´ve always been very close to my own sister).
Little part of my collection. Jo´s boys, Eight cousins, Little Men, An Old Fashioned Girl, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Rainbow Valley, Emily of New Moon, Anne of Green Gables...
Next round came when I was 17-18 and that is when I read Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo´s boys and I think for the next couple of years I read the first two books over and over again. In Finland the first book was published in 2 parts, those being Little Women and Good Wives (I believe it is the same in most part of Europe). So here I will reference the first book as Little Women and second book as Good wives. I am probably part of a minority here but for me Little Women does not work without the Good Wives and I think as a book I enjoyed it even more, yes there were still teachings of morality but the characters felt more mature and it made it easier for me to relate to them.
I am now in my thirties and I recently re-read the books all over again and they opened up in a whole new way. Lot of this has to do with the fact that I have spent lots of time studying the life of Louisa May Alcott and Mein Gott she is interesting. Also I think there are themes in good wives that can be difficult to understand if you read it in a very young age. Now I paid more attention to the social climate of the time, Jo´s and Friedrich´s dynamics and started to unwrap the mystery of the German professor.
Heart´s Dearest aka What Happens When You Fall In Love
vIn the book when Jo first time sees the professor he helps a servant maiden to carry a heavy hold of coal. Jo notices this and becomes very curious about him and it only grows when she sees him arraging his books. Already Friedrich has made quite an impression on Jo and he hasn´t even met her yet.
Louisa May Alcott never got married but I have no doubt that she did knew what it is like to fall in love with someone. Still today for me Jo´s and Friedrich´s courtship (even how unromantic it is) perfectly describes how it is like to fall in love with another person.
This is how Jo describes Friedrich in the beginning:
Professor Bhaer was there while he arranged his books. I took a good look at him. A regular German rather stout, with brown hair tumbled all over his head, bushy beard, droll nose, the kindest eyes I ever saw and a splendid big voice that does one´s ears good, after our sharp or slipshod American gabble. His clothes were rusty, his hands were large and he hadn´t a handsome feature in his face, except his beautiful teeth, yet I liked him, for he had fine head, his linen was spandy nice, and he looked like a gentleman.
Friedrich playing with little Tina completely melts my cynical heart every time.
Jo and Friedrich become very good friends in New York. They go to philosophical symposium where Friedrich gets into a debate and he is such a wonderful speaker that Jo get´s somewhat a spiritual orgasm (that´s the only way I can describe it). There is the New Year´s masquerade, disagreements on literal pursuits (I´ll get back to this). He is very humble and he works as a language teacher in America to provide education for his nephews. When Jo hears that Beth has become ill again and she is going back home she has very mixed feelings about Friedrich and Friedrich being the observing man he wonders if Jo has feelings for Laurie and by this point he has completely fallen in love with her but because he respects her he wont say a word and decides it is better to be her friend than to loose her.
Then Beth dies, Laurie has married Amy and Friedrich returns to Jo´s life and once again Jo observes him:
Mr. Bhaer´s face had lost the absent minded expression, and looked all alive with interest in the present moment -actually young and handsome, she thought.
Bumping heads together while chasing a ball of yarn, young Demi making his own observations and the proposal in the rain still give me warm fuzzies. But that is the way it goes in real life. When you truly fall in love with someone you see them as the most handsome or the most beautiful person in the world and you will do anything for them.
Can we stop for a moment to the proposal under the umbrella. Kissing someone in the rain definitely is a tick to the romance box (and Jo is the one who makes the first move, very much like her). Setting is not nessecarily that romantic since they are carrying parcels and there are people passing by but then he shows the poem that brought him to her. Poem Jo wrote after Beth died. He recognized her initials and knew that she was sad and alone and decided to come and see her. In every single movie version Friedrich returns to Jo to bring her newly published book but I think the poem part works so much better and is much more romantic (in a story that doesn´t have that much romance). I was very glad that it was included to the 2017 series.
Perfect Match, Clarity and the silly professor archetype
Louisa May Alcott did not intend to marry Jo. She was supposed to remain as writer/spinster (like herself) neither she intented to marry any of the sisters. But she felt pressure from her publisher and her readers to marry the girls and she was especially annoyed by little girls who wanted Jo to marry Laurie. When Louisa created Laurie, she gave Jo a brother that she wished she would have had and she never intented to marry them. Louisa was very much against girls marrying young (or for money) but what she managed to do in Little Women was to portray different kinds of marriages including the marriage between Jo and Friedrich, a marriage between equals which would have been her liking as well.
There is inconstancy the way Friedrich is portrayed in the books. There is the Friedrich that I love, the endearing, passionate Friedrich, who makes his hair a mess when he is exited, man who is not afraid to show his feelings and he also feels that Jo is the one person in the world who he always must be honest with. Friedrich who had to leave his home country to support his orphan nephews and he is not one bit ashamed to play with kids and they like him because he treats them with equality and respect. He also has a serious side and he is more observing than the people around him may think. I love these small moments of clarity that he has filled with longing to somewhere (or to someone). If Friedrich and Jo would exist today he and the boys would join her on her book tours and he would not have any problems to come with her on women´s marches and other demonstrations. I´m pretty certain Marie Kondo would not be welcome to Plumfield since books especially spark joy for both of them and they probably spent great deal of time in the library during honeymoon...not.. reading.
Then there is Friedrich that falls into the archetype of a ”silly professor”. He wears thick reading glasses, speaks with a heavy German accent, is not very attractive and is absent minded. I think Louisa deliberately added these features. She even wrote to her uncle that she gets strange satisfaction from the horror that Jo´s pairing with Friedrich might cause to her young readers. I think she did regret falling into the silly professor trap since in the following sequels Friedrich is more established character and the silly features are gone. In the end the silliness of the character comes from the fact that Friedrich was the ideal man for Louisa but not her young readers and because Jo was Louisa´s alter-ego Friedrich is the perfect match for Jo. Many of Friedrich´s ”silly” qualities are completely based on stereotypes on foreigners and ageing, but really, for the modern audience there isn´t a joke there. Friedrich is German, speaks with an accent and wears reading glasses like millions of others. His being absent minded on the other hand falls into the silly professor trap and so is everyone referring him as old when he is in his late 30´s. but maybe that was considered old 150 years ago. Same with the ladies, if you were´t married before the age of 25 you were doomed to be a spinster.
How To Make Moral Philosophy Sexy
When I did this research to the psyche of Friedrich it was very interesting to see all the variations in the way my fellow bhaerians saw him. What it comes to Hollywood there has always been a bit of debate how handsome Friedrich should be or can he be handsome at all. This is of course very tricky since everyone has different views on what is handsome and sexy and what is not. When I read the books I quite often imagine Jo to look like Winona Ryder and Friedrich looks like Gabriel Byrne, so for me Friedrich is always handsome and apparently I am not the only one who imagines him to look like Byrne and based on my research readers have imagined him to look anything between Blake Sheldon to Timothy Dalton to Richard Gere (I do love Richard Gere but I can´t imagine him speaking with German accent). Then there are ladies who really love their men with beards (I think Louisa was one of them) and they are happy with the way he is described in the books. Because of completely selfish reason I do wish that Louisa would have written Friedrich to be more handsome simply because I think that him being poor, older than the woman he loves, an immigrant and someone who is made fun of because of his ”foreign oddities” is enough to make him (or anyone else) to feel uncertain about themselves at times. The question if Friedrich should be handsome or sexy feels out of place. Jo is not depicted to be very beautiful in the books but no one questions were extremely beautiful actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Winona Ryder too pretty to play Jo.
Obviously I love Friedrich and I wish that Louisa would have spent way more time writing about him, his life in Berlin, Minna, his passed away sister, his nephews Franz and Emil and what was their reaction to Jo´s and Fritz engament, anything. Good wives feels unfinished, maybe it was difficult for Louisa to write about romance when she was not living one herself, who knows. Then there is the construction of the book. It is aimed for 9-10 year old girls and every chapter needs to have a moral teaching. How do you write about zizzling love affair of two academics who get turned on from books, great deal of hair, beards, accents and intellectual debates when you need to work in such limited frame?
Xenophobia and romanticing Laurie
When I read the good wives first time at the age of 17 the underlying xenophobia in the society was the last thing in my mind but person grows and develops through the years and unlike before it is something that I unfortunately have personal experience (living in abroad for the past 4 years).
There is a scene in one of Jo´s letters that caught my eye:
”The young men quiz him, it seems, call him Old Fritz, Lager Beer, Ursa Major and make all manners of jokes on his name. But he enjoys it like a boy, Mrs K. Says, and takes it so good naturedly that they all like him, in spit of his odd ways”.
This of course is the way Mrs Kirk sees Friedrich but I highly doubt that this is exactly how Friedrich feels about people making fun of him because jokes can hurt at times but it is his optimistic nature and confidence that make him ignore all that and he is also mature enough to know that young men make bad jokes (mostly because they are insecure). Louisa knew lots of immigrants and all her family and friends were underground abolitionist and many of her stories evolved around multi-racial and multi-national couples but once again maybe it is construction and the target group of the book that creates obstacles for deeper social exploration.
”Now don´t laugh at his horrid name; it isn´s pronounced either Bear or Beer , as people will say it, but something between the two, as only Germans can do it”.
Thank you Jo March. You are the best!
Good Wives is a radical book because it was probably first children´s book ever published that portrayed two multi-cultural marriages already 150 years ago (Fritz and Jo - German and American, Laurie and Amy - Italian-American and American).
I love this quote from Little Men.
“If I had not come to America… I never should have found my Jo. The hard times are very sweet now, and I bless Gott for all I seemed to lose, because I gained the blessing of my life.”
Before anyone throws stones at me I do love Laurie especially when he is played by Christian Bale but he is sometimes kind of an ass in the books and it does seem that one of the reasons why the Friedrich/Laurie debate is so heated has also racist roots. Laurie, even when he has an Italian mother is considered more American than German Friedrich. In the original book that was published in 1868 Laurie is both foreign and androgynous. He has brown skin (it could be #blacklaurie) curly black hair, long nose, nice teeth, little hands and feet and he is same size as Jo and when asks Jo to dance he makes a little French bow. When Louisa May Alcott was a little girl and she was foraging around woods she nearly drowned into a pond and was saved by a young black boy who worked in the near-by farm. In Little Women Amy nearly drowns and she is saved by Jo and Laurie. For the 1880 edition of Little Women Louisa´s publisher demanded her to make changes to the books. Little Women was a massive hit, but publishers want to make money. All foreign features of Laurie were removed because they are not suitable for a romantic suitor. Now he had handsome nose, fine teeth, no mention of his skin color and he is taller than Jo, making him superior to her. Story became more sentimental and also Marmee´s character got a make-over. She became much more gentle and idealised. For the recent editions of Little Women description of Laurie, the way Louisa intended it, has been restored.
The idolisation of Laurie constantly continues in tv and movie-adaptations. After watching 4 different versions I was rather appalled the way Hollywood versions again and again brushes off the flicky nature he has in the books. For example in the 1949 version Laurie played by Peter Lawford, is one of the most idolised Lauries on the screen. He has run away from school, lied about his age to join the army where he got wounded (not that you can see any wounds). Of course, he is also extremely kind and charming. This film version doesn´t either show his and Amy´s time in Europe, which is a shame since Peter Lawford has insane chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor who plays Amy. I like Laurie and the flicky, bit immature nature is part of his charm. From the 4 adaptations that I watched, so far only Christian Bale´s Laurie in 1994 film manages to the capture the good/bad Laurie that exists in the books but even in that version very harmful pranks that the teenage Laurie does are completely missing and the grown-up Lauries´s possessive behaviour.
Christian Bale as Laurie in the 1994 adaptation of Little Women
Toxic Masculinity in Little Women
After 150 years of the releasing of Little Women tender side of masculinity is finally a hot topic. With #metoo and #mentoo campaigns I think it is a great thing that we are questioning the cultural and traditional models of feminity and masculinity.
I recently re-read Little Woman and the character of the teen-age Laurie is a mixture of a charming young man and extremely immature brat. In chapter 21 Laurie makes michief and Jo makes peace Laurie is fed up being told what to do by his tutor John Brooke and he feels strongly that he is superior to him. Now, John Brooke is a kind, hardworking, poor man and 11 years older than 15 year old Laurie. Laurie knows about Brooke´s feelings towards Meg and he poses as his tutor by sending her love letters, all because he wants to show Brooke who is the boss. 17 year old Meg who also has feelings for Mr. Brooke politely responds to these letters. Jo finds out what is going on and together with Meg and Marmee they think how to proceed. In the end Laurie is scolded by Marmee and nearly scolded by his grandfather but Jo asks him to be gentle with him. Everyone swores not to tell anything to Mr Brooke. The worst part of this michief is that Laurie completely ignores Megs feelings. In fact he doesn´t think of her at all and she is the one who gets most hurt in the process. Even today this kind of intrusive behaviour would cause pain to any young woman yet Laurie pretty much gets away with it. He is still a hero for the March family because he saved Amy from drowning but because he is a man (and rich, young and handsome which give him many unfair advantages) he can freely ignore the feelings of the other sex.
In the good wives when Laurie falls for Jo he becomes vile, jealous and possessive. Jo refuses to respond to any of his romantic efforts and Laurie doesn´t take no for an answer and this constant pressure he causes for Jo is somewhat creepy. It is not easy for Jo either because they are good friends and she cares for him like a brother. Eventually situation gets so bad that Jo decides to go to New York and work as a governess. When he proposes her and she says no he is extremely aggressive and over-dramatic and now that I read the book again I became really mad at him since he proposed her again straight after Beth´s death (give the girl a break, she just lost her sister). This is especially troubling since at the same time he has realized that he has feelings for Amy as well. I start to like him again when he and Amy return from Europe and he apologizes Jo about his earlier behavior. I like this flicky nature of Laurie because it makes his character very interesting and more complex but it does bother me that most movie and tv adaptations completely ignore it. Being impulsive and having a temper are not necesssarily bad qualities but when Laurie´s actions harm both Meg and Jo it turns into toxic masculinity.
Peter Lawford and Liz Taylor as Amy and Laurie in the 1949 adaptation
Since each storyline has a moral, all Amy´s moral lessons have always something to do with her vanity and popularity. She has ambition to get into the rich society. Laurie has had everything handed over for him and he is quite unaware of his priviledged position. He didn´t want to go to college (who doesn´t want to go to college!) and after he graduated he spent years drifting around spending his money. Laurie´s vanity is about getting attention and it is one of the reasons Jo turned him down, he would have been jealous or depreciative on her writing (unlike Friedrich who understand´s that Jo has the same passion for writing that he has for teaching). Laurie is a complex character and big part of that attention seeking comes from him being an orphan growing up with a distant grandfather and not really finding his place in the world. Laurie´s behaviour towards Amy when they meet in Europe is actually similar to his behavior towards Jo. When he heard about Amy´s possible engagement with Fred Vaughn he became jealous and possessive. Yet I think he and Amy make a great couple because they both matured when they were in Europe together and it was Amy who told him to get a job or to do something else useful in his life and that is when Laurie goes to work for his grandfather. In 1994 film Laurie goes to work to impress Jo but he doesn´t take the job too seriously until Amy scolds him about it.
Eric Stoltz and Trini Alvarado as John and Meg in the 1994 adaptation
Tender Masculinity in Little Women and in Pop-Culture
Friedrich is in this case a complete opposite to Laurie because he is only going to tell Jo how he feels when he is certain that she has feelings for him and when he knows that he can provide a home for her. Friedrich represents tender masculinity and probably one of the reasons why his character received such strong reaction when good wives was first published, was that 150 years ago society was thousand times more patriarchal what is now days and even though we live in the year 2019 tender masculinity is still questioned and made fun of. Good example from this is Gillette´s best man can be campaign which has been both praised and abused. Another example is Hollywood industry where tender masculinity is still frowned upon.
I did dig up some of my favorite examples of tender masculinity from books, tv and films.
Newt Scamander from the Harry Potter franchise played by Eddie Redmaine is an empathic introvert in the fantastic beasts and where to find them. Newt is a gentle soul, extremely sweet and kind, a true hufflepuff and a fan-favorite. Yet his character received lots of backlash from the critics for being ”overly-good” and ”being too-simple”. Producers tried to ”fix” this for the sequel, the crimes of Grindewald by surrounding him with other characters that possesed more masculine traits and we all know how that turned out. Come to think of it I think Friedrich is Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff and Jo is Ravenclaw/Slytherin.
Another very kind man from the Harry Potter franchise is Remus Lupin. Remus is one of the most empathic and complex characters in the Harry Potter universe. Because he is a werewolf and therefore and outsider, it is his ”outsiderness” that makes him very compassionate. He even feels compassion for Snape, who both Harry and Sirius hate. When Lupin and Tonks get married and have baby it is a constant battle for him because he is afraid that the werewolf in him would hurt them.
I would also like to mention every single man in the fellowhip of the ring (yes, I mostly read fantasy and 19th century girl books). Everyone of them represent tender masculinity. They respect each others and their fair maidens. Aragorn and Faramir are some of the kindest men in literature, yet no one ever questions their masculinity because they are also fearsome warriors. Samvais and all the hobbits are tender and kind by their nature. Even the wizard Gandalf wants to use his power only for good.
In Rick Riordan´s Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus books there are some tender, mild-tempered demi-gods such as Beckendorf, Jason Grace and Frank Zhang. Frank is the son of Mars, the Roman god of war, so you might think that he is very aggressive and war-mongering. Frank is actually a Chinese-Canadian teenager with lactose-intolerance and with wonderful fighting skills..he can also turn into a dragon..or any other animal. He is also extremely kind, compassionate and a very loyal boyfriend to Hazel. As far as fandom goes, guys that are more impulsive and who at times fall into toxic masculinity type of behaviour, such as Percy Jackson, Nico di Angelo and Leo Waldez tend to be more popular.
From my all time tv-crushes Leo Wyatt from Charmed definitely represents tender masculinity. Leo has many traits that could be considered ”feminine”. He is extremely kind, nurturing (well..he is an angel) and isn´t afraid to show his feelings. He is wonderful father and he only uses violence when his family is being threatened. Leo is extremely affectionate and adores Piper. I actually think that Jo´s and Friedrich´s dynamics is very similar to Piper and Leo. Piper with her highly active and sometimes neurotic behavior is balanced by Leo´s loving, caring, down-to-earth nature.
I found myself binge watching this broadway clip. These two singer/actors are amazing!!
In most Little women adaptations Friedrich is both good-tempered and affectionate. In the book there is almost a Shakespearean element in him when he likes to use word ”thou” over ”you” and he likes it when things are a bit sentimental and romantic. Friedrich has the most empathic world view and he especially appreciates those who are discriminated and marginazed same way as he is. There are other characters in Little Women who also posses tender masculinity. One of them is Meg´s husband John Brooke. He accompanied Mrs March on her journey when her husband was wounded and worked hard to build a home for Meg. John is a shy man with a very good heart.
There are certain elements that combine all these men. They are all quite modest and never show off or brag with their talents. Neither they make grand gestures to highlight their own importance. The masculinity that we have been conditioned by the media the way it is presented in films and literature tends to praise men that are quick to action, violence, hide their vulnerability and we easily forgive their aggression, immature behaviour and arrogance. Often the leading man is autonomous, good looking and their possessive behaviour over women is over-looked.
One of my favorite scenes in the Good Wives is the part where old Mr.Laurence wants to comfort his grandson and asks him to travel to Europe with him. Despite of their arguments Laurie loves his grandfather. Mr Laurence is a bit flicky like his grandson. He can be very angry and moody at times but he has a tender heart and I love his friendship with Beth.
Tender masculinity in a patriarchal culture is still often treated as a joke and men who show their feelings are considered more weak because empathy and protectiveness are considered to be feminine traits which automatically leads into unfair power structures between genders. Tender masculinity is not an identity of perfection. Often it is a sign of maturity but one does go through a journey to get into that place. It´s a work-of process.
I wish that there will be more books and movies coming up in the future that center more around the positive and tender masculinity. Stories where men treat women as equals and are not ashamed to show their emotions and I strongly believe this was Louisa´s message as well.
Being too honest and finding your voice
One of the more controversial parts of Friedrich´s character in the books is the paternal tone he takes on Jo´s sensational writing (there we have the toxic masculinity trap once again). In New York Jo starts to write sensational stories that are being published under pseudonum. She keeps telling herself they are not harmful, yet dark side of the human nature that she is exploring is making her rather distressed. Friedrich sees one of these magazines and expresses his opinion about them. He knows that Jo writes but he hasn´t seen her writings and he wonders if she is ashamed of her own work. Jo is offended but later on when she goes through her sensational stories she starts to wonder should she write for herself or because of the money. I personally prefer the film/tv versions where Friedrich apologizes and they have heart-to-heart but in away I also like this scene in the books because it shows that usually such mild-tempered Friedrich can get mad about certain things (like children seeing grotesque illustrations). When I first time read this chapter I did have mixed feelings about it but now I agree with both of them. I´ve done some client work illustrations that have paid the bills but I have not always enjoyed making them and neither have they improved me and challenged me as an artist. Wouldn´t it be better to find that own artistic or literal style and get hired because of that talent that makes you stand out from all the rest. When we think about the people who are the creative masters in their fields what they do is, they focus on their strengths.
Friedrich works here as a narrative tool for Jo to find her true voice as a writer. After she stops writing the sensational stories she moves on to the opposite end, and she writes stories that are nothing else than lessons of morality. It doesn´t work and then she moves on to write stories for children. That doesn´t feel right either so she decides to stop writing for a while. Friedrich advice her to observe people around her to make her character more vivid and as a result Jo starts to observe Friedrich (without him knowing of course). Finally after Beths death, Jo starts to write realism and that is when she finally finds her own voice as a writer. Louisa went through a similar arch but much earlier than Jo. Louisa herself also wrote sensational stories under a pseudonym. This whole chapter can be interpreted as Louisa´s own journey in the terms of her writing. Later on she said that the those sensational stories weren´t that great but like for Jo they were another literal experiment. Neither Louisa enjoyed writing moralistic stories for children (like Little Women). She preferred writing realism for adults.
This scene is one of the many moral lessons in Little Women, write from your heart and you´ll get the best result.
Though I do not enjoy writing moral tales for the young, I do it because it pays well - L. M.A
Men in touch with their feelings
There is a scene in Jo´s boys where Friedrich hugs his sons
”not ashamed to express by gesture or by word the fatherly emotions an American would have compressed into a slap on the shoulder and a brief ”all right”.
I come from a country where the traditional role of men is not to show your feelings and especially fathers used to be somewhat distant to their children and I have seen this behavioral pattern breaking slowly but firmly (which I am very glad). There is great difference in each culture the way we interract with each others. Both Russians and Swedes are more affectionate than Finns. Same with germans and French versus the British.
Friedrich is very warm, calm and affectionate and I think he is perfect for Jo who is a bit shy but also very impulsive. They share love for learning and academics, both are interested from the workings of the mind. He possesses all the feminine attributes that she appreciates in a man and he loves her spirit and enthusiasm. Based on their companionship and similar views about the equality in marriage and in a relationship, they could work excellently as a romantic/erotic/passionate component. There is some wonderful growth in both characters from the time they meet in New York and when they reunite in Concord but Louisa tries very hard to strip away all the romantic elements. This is very frustrating for a reader because there is so much potential! My guess is that it was difficult for Louisa to write about them as adult women knowing her readership and even in the sequals she focuses more on child characters.
There is nothing "little" in Jo March
I am going to offer an interesting take on Jo March, a theory that is supported by quite many LW fans and Alcott scholars, that is Jo becomes in touch with her sexuality rather late. In the 19th century puberty began much later compared to nowdays but Jo´s development is behind even to her peers. When she meets Friedrich it´s the first time she is sexually attracted to another person. Many readers were put off the way Friedrich is described in the books but Jo is drawn to him. She likes his kind nature, intelligence and his looks. When she writes letters to her family she can´t shut up. All letters are about Friedrich. She has a crush on him. When Friedrich starts courting Jo and she responds to his feelings she acknowledges that Friedrich doesn´t want her to change and loves her the way she is. Jo is always a bit tupsy-turvey and so is he. Louisa added lots of feminism to her books and one of the prime examples of that is Jo making a choise to be with someone who she loves. Even the title of the book "Little Women" describes the transition of girls becoming women. But there is nothing little in Jo and that is why we all love her.
Very modern marriage
I always felt that falling in love with Friedrich and marrying him were something that Jo would do because she wasn´t never going to settle to do something conventional and a marriage with a poor, foreign philosophy professor who was older than her was definitely unconventional and they both have immense respect for each other and agree to work hard to build their future together. When Jo agrees to Friedrich´s proposal he gives her title of professorin making her equal to him (women were allowed to attend lectures and exams at universities but they were not allowed to graduate or matriculate until 1920´s). To me Jo still remains a better female rolemodel than my other literal heroine Anne Shirley. When Anne marries Gilbert she completely throws away all her literal pursuits and ambitions and becomes a devoded wife and a mother. This has always bothered me since, like Friedrich, Gilbert was always very supportive on his wife´s writing career. Jo manages to combine work and family. She continues writing while running the school and by the fourth book she starts to gain fame as an author. I would not have minded if Jo would have remained as unmarried bohemian writer, but since I love Friedrich in my world they would have met in a symposium or a debate and had a passionate love affair (damn these fictional boyfriends! I can´t get enough of them).
Friedrich, the German Puzzle, Great loves of Louisa May Alcott
Both Friedrich and Laurie are based on several different men in Louisa May Alcott´s life. One of the biggest inspirations for Friedrich was Louisa´s first love, philosopher and a poet, Henry Thoreau. I was quite surprised when I read description about Thoreu because it sounded word to word to Jo´s first impression about Friedrich. Thoreu was an eccentric, kind, bohemian. He had unconventional teaching methods taking his students to nature to observe things around them. Based on everything what I have read about Louisa it seems that Thoreu was her first love (like Friedrich is to Jo) and she loved him throughout her life. That if they ever had a physical relationship is unclear (Thoreau was married). Another inspiration for Friedrich was philosopher Ralph Waldo Emmerson and the protective-aspect of Friedrich comes from him. He was a good friend and a neighbor of Louisa´s family and often saved them from debt and stopped Louisa´s father, Bronson pursuing some of his craziest ideas. One more inspiration for Friedrich was German poet and romantic writer Goethe. In one of her novels called the Moods Louisa´s alter ego is young Sylvia. She is married to Geoffrey Moore (Emmerson) yet she is in love with an attracted to Adam Warwick (Thoreau). Louisa published and re-wrote Moods over a period more than twenty-years.
Third part of Friedrich comes Ladislas ”Laddie” Wisniewski and as you can probably guess from the name, Laddie was major inspiration for Laurie. 33 year old Louisa met Laddie while she was working as an accompanion for a lady called Anna Weld. Louisa traveled around Europe with Miss Weld and she met 21- year old Ladislas in Switzerland. Laddie was a militery man and an aspiring pianist. They became good friends and it is possible that they had a fling or a little romance. It seems that Laddie was bit of a playboy and there was somekind of confortation between him, Louisa and Anna Weld. There are attributes in Friedrich that come straight from Laddie. Those are his politeness, him being European and less but not least, him speaking with a sexy accent. Some people find it cringy that Friedrich teaches German to Jo. Apparentally Laddie taught Polish for Louisa and she helped him with English and she felt sexual attraction to her intellectual friends like Thoreu. Perhaps we should move away from the teacher-student relationship to more realistic one, to the fact that Jo and Friedrich are most of all friends who are curious about each others and maybe those lessons were an excellent excuse to spend more time together.
Bad tongues say that Friedrich is based on Louisa´s father Bronson Alcott. If Friedrich is one thing, he is the anti-Bronson. Bronson Alcott was a reverend and one of the leaders of the trancendalist movement. His high level spirituality was toxic for his family. Often he refused to find work and would focus on his writings and theosophical ideas while his family was starving. Quoting Emerson ”wife, children, and friends are less to him than the great ideas he is seeking to realize”. This is something that Friedrich would never do. If you´ve read the books you´ll know that Friedrich is the very definition of a family man (in the most positive sense of the word). Another thing that he and Jo have in common.
Louisa´s parents marriage was filled with arguing. She idolized her mother Abba but she also recognized the unbalanced power structure in her parents marriage. This is why Louisa was very sceptical about marriage but since she felt obligied to marry off all the March girls she gave them all happy and serene marriages. Louisa had love/hate relationship with her father and that is why Jo´s father is absent for most part of the books. Louisa did respect her father as a teacher more than as a husband and a father and some of Friedrich´s teaching methods come from him (and from Thoreau as well). Very little is known about Louisa May Alcott´s lovelife. She burned and cencored many of her diaries. Some people suspect that she was a lesbian, asexual, bi or gender-fluid. Gender-fluid makes the most sense. Same way as Jo, young Louisa was very unconscious about her body and often wished that she could be a boy but we will probably never know the truth.
Let´s Talk About The Age Gap
Many times when people debate if Jo and Friedrich belong together they bring out the age gap. I think this is the worst argument of the bunch. The age gap is about 12-15 years. I know president couples with age gaps four times as big (no pun intended). In many Louisa´s stories there is an age gap between the lovers and this is also a theme in Little Women, March sisters are all married to men older than they. Laurie is four years older than Amy, John is nine years older than Meg. It does seem that Louisa only could feel comfortable with men that were older, or younger than her. Emmerson was 29 years older than Louisa. Thoreu was 15 years older and Laddie was 12 years younger. I find it pretty interesting that the age gap of Jo and Friedrich is pretty close to the age gaps that Louisa had with Henry Thoreu and Laddie. She was very careful about her reputation so it does seem that she gave Jo the relationship she didn´t get.
Personally, I think what it comes to romance in Little Women, books and in real life, everything goes as long as everyone are over 18.
Screen - Friedrich´s
In the name of research I watched four different little women adaptations. There are many more but I chose these four since they are most familiar for the modern audience.
Let´s Just Forget About This Friedrich -Friedrich
In the 1933 film version of Little Woman Friedrich was played by Hungarian actor Paul Lukas. Unfortunately Friedrich Bhaer in this version falls straight into the silly professor-archetype trap. He looks like he is closer to 60 than 40 and accent sounds rather comical. There is no chemistry between him and Katherine Hepburn´s Jo. I do give credit for this film because it shows bit more of Jo´s time in New York, something that most adaptations tend to ignore. Yes, he is kind but also completely lacks the respect that Friedrich of the book has for Jo. This guy even asks Jo if he could write to her father and ask him for something (like her hand). Friedrich of the book would never speak to a man such as this. Both Friedrich and Laurie appear quite comical for the modern audiences. Laurie played Douglas Montgomery looks and acts like a 30´s dreamboat and yet again the complex personality that Laurie has in the books is completely missing but at least he is more androgyny's than most screen Lauries which is a big part of Laurie´s description in the books but often ignored in the films.
I Want To Marry This Friedrich
Friedrich in the 1949 version is played by Italian actor Rossano Brazzi and by the gods and goddesses I think I am in love with him. This film is packed with very handsome men and Rossano Brazzi is the most handsome of them all and one of the many faults of this film is that he is maybe 10 minutes on the screen.
My favorite scene is the part where he plays piano and translates a German song to Jo. I love the part when they first meet in the stairs and he is playing with the children. He is handsome and sexy even with his messy hair and glasses. There is something extremely sincere in Rossano´s performance. He captures Friedrich´s kind and caring nature with very settle movements and facial expressions just in the ways he looks at Jo and talks to her. Sometimes his accent slips from German to Italian but from all the Friedrich´s on this list, he is most convincing as someone who speaks English as their second language. There is also wonderful chemistry between him and June Allison who plays Jo. Rossano is probably the most dreamiest Friedrich of them all.
Louisa May Alcott`s Friedrich
In the pbs 2017 adaptation of Little Women Friedrich is played by English actor Mark Stanley. If you have read this post this far you might have noticed that I prefer my Friedrich beardless... I think I need to make an exception since this guy rocks the beard. He looks exactly like Louisa May Alcott described Friedrich to look like. He is not too old or too young, he has a bushy beard and he even has the kind eyes that Jo loves. This adaptation does the same mistake that most adaptations do. This wonderful Louisa May Alcott´s Friedrich is on the screen only 5-10 minutes!
Many Little Women fans criticized this series for being rushed and it is true. Jo´s time in New York goes so fast I have hard time to appreciate all the little things that have been added. There is the symposium (or leaving the symposium), Friedrich is playing with the children. Kitty, Minnie and Little Tina are there. How wonderful that they added Franz and Emil. Could I get a Little Women adaptation that shows more interraction between Tina and Friedrich? Honestly it´s one of the sweetest parts in the book! Also I have not yet come across movie or tv adaptation where Friedrich tells Jo about his sister and the boys (who´s father abandoned them) and they are the reason why he moved to America in the first place. I do love this Friedrich but he is once again over-shadowed by Laurie who in this adaptation is idolized for 2 and half episodes and the cringy behavior he has in the books is once again completely missing. Since this is a tv series the makers could have done such a wonderful job developing Friedrich´s story and his and Jo´s relationship. I mean, they make him look just like in the books but the character is still ignored.
One of the things that this adaptation does right is that it is the poem that brings him to her. I also liked the part where Amy tells Jo that ”everyone likes him” (I definitely do).
Your Heart Understood Mine Friedrich
From now on Gabriel has to share his place as my number one Friedrich with Mark Stanley and Rossano Brazzi. But I still think that Friedrich in the 1994 film is most established from all film Friedrichs. This is one of the rare adaptations which shows the gradual development of Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship. It is more mature and more suitable for the modern audience than what it is in the books (thank goodness). I have seen this film so many times I can even quote the song he translates to Jo in the opera. As much I enjoy the romantic scenes (this adaptation ticks all those boxes) I also like the part where they first meet and end up talking about books and philosophy but my favorite part is the one where they are in the boarding house and the young men are talking about women´s right to vote and they all ignore Jo who is the only woman in the room. All except Friedrich who asks her to express her opinion and Jo says that women should be allowed to vote not because they are more moral creatures than men but because they are human beings and equal to them.
Louisa May Alcott, an early suffragette, would approve.
When Gabriel Byrne heard that Gillian Armstrong was going to make Little Women he asked to read for the part of the professor and when he came to the audition he was the only man who had actually read Little Women. His mother used to read it to him and his siblings when they were young and he loved the book. (Yes, I am still swooning) and of course then there´s this. I guess some actors are just made for certain roles.
I just recently found out that there is going to be a new film version of Little Women coming up in December 2019. French actor Louis Garrel is Friedrich, Saoirse Ronan is Jo and Meryl Streep is aunt March! It´s better be good!
Jo and Fritz Fandom
Reading the books again and watching all these adaptations (three of them I had never seen before) has actually made me love Friedrich even more. In these four different adaptations Friedrich has been played by Hungarian, Italian, Irish and English actors. I do find it interesting that Friedrich hasn´t ever been played by a German actor or even someone who is a native German speaker but then again I haven´t watched all other Little Women tv-adaptations (there are so many of them) so I might be wrong here.
This was the first time that I read Little Women and Good Wives in English and I did not know that Friedrich´s accent was literally written into the books. In the Finnish translation it is only implied that he speaks with a German accent. I studied German for years so I never had difficulties to imagine it. Another surprise for me was that some English speakers call him Fredrick and not as Friedrich, since they can not pronounce German. Fredrick or Friedrich I love him just the same... but hey one can always call him Fritz <3
As I told in the beginning I have spent lots of time in my life in Alcott forums (when I was younger livejournal was a thing!) and there are some lovely Jo and Fritz fanfics. You won´t find tons of them but about 90 % of Jo and Friedrich fanfiction is actually very well-written. If any Jo/Fritz shippers and fanfic writers are reading this, someone who loves and understands these two characters should write a book about them and give more depth to the story. I´d totally buy it. Heck, I´ll promote it.
Here are few of my all-time favorite Jo/Friedrich fan-fics.
Magic of the girl pirates
How do you say
In sickness and health
These are R-Rated
The ecstasy to guess
The Bridal Tour
For Good Ends
(I would recommend to read these in this order ;) )
For the hardcore Jo and Fritz shippers I can recommend anything from Middlemarch, Littlerumbird, OzQueen and Laura Schiller.
There is also a group in Tumbrl called "Under the umbrella" completely dedicated to fans of Jo and Fritz.
If anyone in #teambhaer or other LW fans want to hang out with me on social media you can find me on instagram @fairychamberart
Check out my other Little Women articles:
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
Little Women: Equal Marriage Lost in Translation
Thoughts on TeamLaurie and TeamBhaer
Little Women: Symbolism of the Umbrella
Little Women 1933
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
Little Men and Tender Parenthood
I would love to hear your thoughts. Who´s your favorite screen Friedrich? do you like him more in the books than in the films? or maybe you are like me and think that they all compliment each other. Beard or no beard that is the question? Do you have more examples of tender masculinity in movies and literature that I could add to my list?
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Penguin Classics edition with Elaine Showalter introduction
Louisa May Alcott, The woman behind little women by Harriet Reisen
Why the Cult of Jo March and Little Women Endures
Artist, illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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